Why have a database? Isn’t HTML enough?

You need a database

Do I really need a database for my website?

In most cases the answer is YES.   I can think of only a few websites that don’t use database these days.  Many have more than one. And it’s not uncommon to have 5 or 10 or more all running at the same time on the same website.

If your goal is to show a couple pictures and display some text, then No you don’t need a database. But if that is the extent of your online goals, you probably aren’t going to be overwhelmingly successful either.

Here are some things to think about in regards to using a database in your website.

OUTGOING INFORMATION

The great thing about a databases is that they can take your website to a completely new level. Not only can you store and manage your entire site’s content in a database, you can organize it and display that content in completely interactive ways.

Example #1: Contextual Content.  One thing I love to do is have images and ads in various places of a web page that change depending on the page topic, month of the year, how long the person has been on the site, or what pages the person has already seen on the site. For example, once the person has visited 5 or 6 pages on the site I may want to start showing them a 20% off coupon in the side bar.   The only way to track and implement this kind of activity effectively is with a database.  

Example #2: Minimize the work. I have built websites before that use only one page. The HOME page. The links in the navigation bar don’t lead to any other page, they simply lead back to the home page. The difference in this case is that each link tells the database to show a different block of content on the home page.  The person visiting the site doesn’t know the difference. It looks like they are physically changing pages. But the page is actually pulling it’s information dynamically from the database. The site now is completely unlimited in what is can display. This one page site can now easily display 1000+ pages worth of content with not one additional HTML page being constructed. The content can be changed at any time, pages can be added or deleted, and the navigation structure is updated instantly. And it can be updated from anywhere in the world.

Example #3:  Responsive links. One of my favorite features that I’ve created is a hit counter for each individual navigation link on the site. The navigation bar was set up to look at the hit count and display the links in popularity order. So as people browsed the site the links would float around to reveal the most popular link(s). The links that people most often visit became the top of the navigation and the ones that people didn’t care so much about sank to the bottom. This had amazing results and actually provided a ton of information about our visitors and their interests.

I could come up with dozens more examples of uses for databases and ‘dynamic’ content. Here are a few. Auto-responder series, test taking, student management, calendars, work schedules, shopping carts (of course), golf tallies, sports ‘winning’ team selectors, online polls, online registrations, application collection and SO much more.  

INCOMING INFORMATION

Websites are incredibly interactive. To be successful we have to change our thinking about what they are capable of.  Not only can you provide information and services TO your visitors, you can also gather highly valuable information FROM them. There’s literally no end to the things web surfers will give you. They’ll give you all sorts of video (YouTube), expertise (countless forums), opinions (blogspot), audio (iTunes), etc.  It’s your job as a website owner to be able to get that information from them.

That’s were a database comes in.  Once you get information from your visitors, you need a way to store it, and then more importantly you need a way to organize and retrieve the content.  A database makes that easy. Once you know the needs of your web visitors, you’ll be able to provide even better products and services to them.

Here are some common things that databases are used for. (This is not an exhaustive list. There are countless uses for a database)

  • Email mailing list
  • User forums
  • Incoming contact requests and information
  • Booking and reservations
  • Automatic email series
  • Hit counters
  • Gathering visitor statistics
  • And so many more…

 

If you are thinking about setting up a website, you may want to take a few minutes and think about how a database can make your life easier. You can easily turn your new website into a tool that will work hard for you 24/7 rather than just a cute display of flashy graphics. A database can be just what you need to accomplish that.

2 thoughts on “Why have a database? Isn’t HTML enough?


  1. Hey Rob,
    Great article! I know so much of the behind the scenes work that’s done on websites occurs through databases. Personally, the hardest part is learning how to work with and extract the information from the databases so that they show up properly. That’s why I’m SO thankful there are experts, like you, who are there to get me straightened out whenever something goes wrong with one of my sites.
    You give me some good things to think about here. Some ideas for updating and upgrading my sites for the future.
    Al


  2. Yeah, I know sometimes working with the databases can be complicated. But once it’s working you can do amazing things.

    You know… By the way, even when we don’t know we’re using databases, we often are. For example services like Google Analytics, Google adwords, Alexa rankings, maps, etc. That’s all done via database even though the database isn’t actually located at your site.

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